Phuket is one of the most well-known places in Thailand; roughly 30 million people visit the country each year and 40% of them visit Phuket. I stayed at a hotel north of the island knowing I wanted something a bit more secluded, but my rental car allowed me to take a day trip to the island to explore. I met up in Patong with two friends from my time at the Elephant Nature Park, Lucy and Angelique from Australia, and from there we explored the island.
My first impression of Patong was overwhelming and the beach smaller and dirtier than expected. Walking down the street you are constantly heckled by restaurants, tour guides and bars. The stores are packed tightly together and the streets are overrun with tourists. It was an easy decision for the three of us to leave the Patong area in search of other beaches and experiences.
After a lunch on the cliff side overlooking Patong's bay, the three of us went south to explore the beaches lining the coast. The roads on Phuket follow the coastline allowing for beautiful glimpses of the bay, and an exceptionally small and winding road. We drove by Freedom Beach, Kata Beach and Karon Beach, stopping only briefly to watch surfers and walk a bit. From Kata we headed inland in search of the Big Buddha.
The Big Buddha is exactly what it sounds like, and enormously large Buddha statue located high on a mountain in Phuket. To get there is no easy feat, Lucy and Angelique were very trusting of my American driving as we pulled a variety of legal and illegal u-turns. It's not my fault signage is limited in Thailand, it usually occurs only after you've missed the turn. The trek up the mountain allows for beautiful views of the scenic bays and jungles of Phuket. Unfortunately, we also saw three baby elephants, no more than a year old, chained along the side of the road to be fed and photographed by tourists. It was a hard sight for us having spent the week at the Elephant Nature Park; we knew abuse existed, but it's difficult to witness it first hand.
Upon finally reaching the top, the view was astounding. The Big Buddha is 150 feet tall, weighs 135 tons and is adorned entirely with white marble tiles. Looking down over Phuket was also an amazing sight, you could locate various beaches and see over the numerous mountains covering the island.
As the afternoon drew to a close, the three of us had to say goodbyes to head in different directions. I drove Lucy to the airport (with just a few more u-turns) for her flight to Sydney, Angelique headed off to Greece, and I drove back up to Khao Lak. Overall a good day in Phuket, spent with awesome people!